Recently Released Inmates May Have Trouble Finding the Addiction Help They Need
At the end of October 2015, more than 13,000 inmates were granted a revised sentence and nearly 6,000 prisoners were released, one of the largest prison releases in American history. The action stemmed from the U.S. Sentencing Commission’s decision in April 2014 to revise their guidelines on drug trafficking sentences, reducing the amount of time served for federal offenders. The sentencing reduction applies retroactively, meaning current inmates are eligible to have their sentence reduced.
Barriers to addiction treatment
People released from extended periods of incarceration often need many services and support to function back in society, gain employment, resume family roles, remain healthy and avoid criminal activity. The rates of resuming substance use among those arrested for drug offenses can be very high. And some of this can be attributed to the lack of treatment while incarcerated or after release. In an earlier report by The National Center on Addiction and Substance Abuse, Behind Bars II, we reported that nearly 65 percent of U.S. inmates met the criteria for addiction. Yet only about 11 percent of those received treatment while in prison. A substantial number of the newly released would benefit from treatment, but will likely encounter significant barriers.
Accessing medical care can be a problem for formerly incarcerated. One study found that formerly incarcerated persons were three times as likely to not see a doctor because of cost compared to those who had not been incarcerated. The good news is that the Affordable Care Act (ACA) seeks to increase access to care for all adults. With Medicaid expansion, thousands of low-income people are now eligible for benefits, including people recently released from prison. Unfortunately, those living in states that did not adopt the Medicaid expansion will find themselves ineligible for coverage, affecting up to approximately 7,400 of those who were released.
Having access to treatment directly after being released from prison is critical for the formerly incarcerated. The mortality rate for a formerly incarcerated person is 3.5 times higher than his or her non-incarcerated peer in the two weeks after their release, in large part due to drug overdose. The National Center on Addiction and Substance Abuse’s report also found that substance-involved offenders are more likely to return to prison compared to those who are not involved with substances. If one of the goals of this release is to ease prison crowding and allow the formerly incarcerated to integrate back into society, every effort should be made to connect newly-released individuals to quality, community-based addiction services.
Margaret Raskob, MPH
Margaret Raskob is a freelance blogger.